This was supposed to be the Christmas of sacrifice.
The week after D.J. returned to China in August, our family, totally heartbroken after farewelling this 10-year-old boy we had gotten to know and love but now totally enamored by this beautiful opportunity to host orphans in our home, discussed the possibility of hosting again over the winter.
Although we had fallen in love with hosting and decided as a family it was something we wanted to now do once a year, we hadn’t set aside the funds to host two children back-to-back. And, because the hosting cost covers the children’s plane tickets and insurance and chaperone costs, it wasn’t a sum we could just magically come up with overnight.
But when the boys saw the list of children available for the winter hosting program — children with medical needs and special needs and 11- and 12-year-old children months away from aging out of the international adoption system — they asked if we could somehow find a way to make it happen.
That’s when Superhero 2 suggested that we could host a child in lieu of exchanging gifts this year.
Supersoldier’s gaze met mine, and our second child’s tender heart melted us.
We’d planned on taking a vacation to visit dear military friends for the boys’ Christmas presents this year. And because we’d planned for the TRIP to be their only present, we’d set aside cash to purchase plane tickets.
“If we do this,” I said, “that would mean we would have to go give up Christmas presents for EVERYONE. We would have to host a child instead of giving OR receiving gifts this year. That means that you wouldn’t get to do your normal shopping trips for family and teachers, and there would be nothing under the tree on Christmas morning. ALL of us would host a child in lieu of exchanging gifts this year. The only present you might get is one from Santa, if you’re really good.”
Without even hesitating, Superhero 1 cried, “Yes! Can we please do that?” Superhero 2 declared, “I would much rather use our money for hosting!” And Superhero 3 agreed to giving up his Christmas luxuries … but only if he could help choose the host child. (He may be small, that one, but he’s mighty.)
And that’s how these boys (who were literally fighting each other to the floor seconds after this heart-melting conversation, so let’s not paint too rosy of a picture here) decided to HOST this Christmas in lieu of receiving gifts.
Or, at least, that was what was SUPPOSED to happen.
At 4:30 a.m. on Christmas morning, four excited children donning the reds and greens of night-before Christmas PJs (a tradition we did still continue for these nudity-loving boys who have very little to cover their boy parts with this strange new female human now in the house), sprinted into the family room. Santa had brought each one a gift — a Lego set for each of the littles, a watch for Superhero 1 and a camera for our animal photographer extraordinaire. And he’d even filled all four stockings with a blanket, a book and a bottle of hand sanitizer (because, let’s be honest, Santa is the only one with enough weight in this house to promote hygiene in any kind of way that will make an impact).
And even though the tree was empty, in a move that filled our hearts with pride, these boys’ HEARTS were full.
For an hour, we watched as these boys swooned over their one gift, snuggled under their blankets and helped Joy with her new camera.
They laughed. They played. They gave thanks for the gift of JOY — both the joy they experienced with a Daddy at home for Christmas this year AND the gift of Joy who, by this point, has seriously melted each boy’s heart.
And when we saw that they were truly grateful for the decision they made in August to give up Christmas in order to give this precious 7-year-old girl one she would never forget, we sat them down … and we told them THIS.
These teachers and staff members, people we’ve known for two years and who have already blessed us beyond measure as they’ve loved on the military children we pull in and out of school for deployments and homecomings and promotion ceremonies and military occasions — these incredible angels went together and purchased beautiful gifts not only for the boys, but also for Joy. And even for us.
Their love, their thoughtfulness, their overwhelming generosity — it was almost too much to take.
In fact, when the teacher who organized this entire charade contacted me to ask me if I could stop by the office to pick up this box of gifts, I asked her to PLEASE give these incredible gifts to another family. One who needed them more.
Our boys had the CHOICE to give up Christmas this year. So many other families weren’t in a place to MAKE that choice. For them, Christmas gifts were not an option.
I felt horrible accepting so much when these boys didn’t NEED it, didn’t EXPECT it. I asked if they were sure they didn’t want to give these precious gifts to others.
This teacher, who isn’t even my children’s teacher this year and who holds such a special place in my heart, replied with this:
“I can think of other children who NEED them more. But your children deserve them.”
And I bawled.
Because what this teacher didn’t know at the time was that it had been a crazy season in the Cuthrell home. Our tenants had moved out of the house we owned in Washington, and Superhero 1 and I had flown cross country to make repairs on the home that now had almost $19,000 in damages. (Thank you, home owners’ insurance, for covering the damages in our flooded kitchen.)
We’d placed $12,000 on our credit card to get the house on the market, and we were now covering two mortgages as we were waiting for this Washington home to sell.
Both our vehicles had recently required major repairs, our well in our primary home had gone out and we’d had numerous unexpected expenses in the few months leading up to hosting.
Had we not already planned to make Joy our Christmas gift to one another, we would have likely reduced the size of Christmas this year anyway.
And, in the midst of it all, this incredibly generous gesture that these teachers had just offered brought me to tears.
I bawled as I walked into our school’s front office.
I bawled as these crazy generous people handed me this beautiful box of love for my children.
And tears fell again on Christmas morning as I got to share with these boys what LOVE, KINDNESS and GENEROSITY look like.
And they, too, were just stunned.
The blessings didn’t end there.
God had more tricks up His sleeve.
Because the first week of December, I celebrated my 10-year anniversary with Good Catch Publishing, a company I have LOVED since the moment I joined them as a project manager in 2006.
For 10 years, I’ve had the honor and privilege of working for bosses who love Jesus and love others and who lead with this culture of celebration and affirmation. Who speak LIFE into each and every team member. Who challenge all of us to EXCELLENCE by the way they pour LOVE into each and every person and task.
I didn’t know that they even knew or remembered that I had been working from home for them for 10 entire years.
But they remembered.
And on the day of my 10-year anniversary, they, along with our fabulous administrator, asked my best friend, who is also the art director at our company, to assemble a video ... that celebrated my anniversary with an insanely generous gift for my husband and for me ... and with CHRISTMAS PRESENTS FOR EACH OF OUR CHILDREN.
And then I died.
This company, these people — they are beyond unbelievable. They are BEYOND generous. They are more precious and amazing than I could have ever asked for. I sign into my office hours daily EXCITED about my life, EXCITED about my job, feeling like the people I get to email and chat and call are more than just co-workers; they're dear friends. And this gesture they offered after it was MY PRIVILEGE, MY HONOR to work at this life-changing company for a decade — it slayed me.
I seriously wept for a week.
And yesterday, I got the privilege of sharing with the boys the GENEROSITY of some of the most godly, generous, amazing bosses in the entire world.
The blessings this Christmas — this Christmas that was supposed to be one of sacrifice for ALL of us — have been overwhelming. I’ve lived in the Land of Teary Eyes all month long as God has poured out undeserved blessing after undeserved blessing over our family through the hands and feet of the amazing people in our lives.
From the friend who bought Joy and me pedicures to the one who sent an Instant Pot that I now use as a rice cooker in our home ... from the ones who brought Joy Usborne books and coloring books to the ones who loaned us girl clothes and pink boots and hair bows ... from the friend who sent Toys R Us and Food Lion gift cards for her stay to the one who brought road trip games and coffee mugs to get us through our Atlanta pick-up, all the way to the family members who sent checks for the boys to use to give Joy an experience in our home … all of them have just been TOO MUCH.
We have been SO BLESSED to get the PRIVILEGE of hosting this precious girl in our home. She TRULY has been the BIGGEST GIFT OF ALL, and hosting her as been nothing but a JOY! AN HONOR! A PRIVILEGE!
But God, in His crazy generous nature, used these incredible people in our lives to bless us anyway.
To bless us even though we didn’t need it.
To bless us even though we didn’t DESERVE IT.
To speak straight to the heart of these gift-loving boys and implant a life-changing truth in their souls.
The truth that YOU CAN’T OUTGIVE GOD.
Though you may try. Though you may sacrifice. Though you may give up what the world would say is too much for little kids to abandon at Christmastime.
You can’t outgive God.
He will ALWAYS outgive YOU.
These “blessings” from God — they don’t always come in material form. In fact, the biggest blessings in our lives have not been gifts or things or object AT ALL!
They’ve been relationships. They’ve been lessons. They’ve been PEOPLE who have poured into us time and time again.
It’s just that this Christmas, God’s blessings came in material form. In the form of something these boys could SEE and TOUCH and TASTE.
In the form that will truly leave an everlasting impression on their hearts.
After all the blessings yesterday, after these boys had opened the gifts they were never supposed to have and sat playing with the sweetheart who was supposed to be their only gift, Supersoldier and I sat them down. We looked into their eyes. And then we shared with them the Bible verse in Malachi that God had impressed on our hearts throughout this entire experience:
“‘Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and poor out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’” (Malachi 3:10)
We explained to these stunned and overjoyed boys that we don’t give to God TO get things (because we could already see THAT line of thinking coming from a million miles away). But when we give to God’s priorities — when we give with a heart like His — when we give in order to serve OTHERS — we’ve found that what we get in RETURN is worth FAR MORE than what we EVER would have had with our own tightly clenched fists.
Maybe this Christmas, you’ve held back.
Maybe this Christmas, you’ve been afraid to give too much out of fear that there would be nothing left to meet your family’s needs.
Maybe you’ve operated out of fear of your financial situation.
Maybe you’ve operated with small and conservative faith.
Maybe God has called you to GIVE. To others. To orphans. To Him.
Maybe God has even called you to ADOPT.
The cost looks massive. The process, overwhelming. Your ability to GIVE of God’s heart at that level seems like just too much to ask.
Please believe me when we tell you that WE’VE BEEN THERE.
Wondering how we could ever gather $40,000 for Superman’s adoption.
Wondering how we were going to make a hosting payment when we were unexpectedly covering two mortgages.
Wondering how our boys might respond to the SACRIFICES we asked them to make as we followed what we felt God asking of our family.
But let me tell you —
There is no cost too high. There no price to steep. There is no price tag too large when it comes to GIVING to the things of God.
To SERVING people.
TO CHANGING LIVES.
Though you might feel like your financial sacrifices are steep, in the end, somehow, you are ALWAYS the one most blessed.
Because as we add bills, He multiplies them.
As we scrape them together, He ties them in bundles.
And as we pray for dimes, HE pours out DOLLARS.
On Joy’s first day in our home, we received the boxes in the mail from Good Catch Publishing, found out that Supersoldier would be returning from his travels before Christmas and our house — the one with thousands of dollars in damages that was on the market during the WORST selling month of the year — went under contract.
And, because of the extreme generosity of teachers and bosses, our boys and our host child would have the most amazing Christmas of their lives.
God took care of every single possible detail. AND THEN SOME.
We know this girl must be something special for Him to go SO FAR OUT OF HIS WAY to bless US simply for hosting her.
And this Christmas, we pray that HER forever family might step out in FAITH and abandon all FEAR and put their finances and worries in the hands of a God who CLEARLY has an awesome plan for this girl’s life.
You can’t outgive God.
And Joy’s future family — we promise you. She WILL be your greatest gift.